How Bush’s Belligerence Prompted North Korea to Pursue Nuclear Weapons

As a psychologist engaged in peace research, I attended a summer seminar program in 1990 at UCLA’s Center for International and Strategic Affairs. An expert from one of the US nuclear weapons laboratories presented a history of nuclear weapons proliferation. His argument was that threatening a nation with nuclear weapons can cause that nation to acquire nuclear weapons. A clear causal chain runs from the US threatening the Soviet Union, to the US and the Soviets threatening China, to China threatening India, to India threatening Pakistan. It may take a decade or two, but acquiring nuclear weapons becomes a national priority for nations threatened by nuclear weapons.

In the current crisis, North Korea is trying to appear to have nuclear weapons, and we imagine that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons. The assorted analyses of this crisis are over-looking the role of the USA threatening both of those nations:

1) The US sees Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as conspiring in an “Axis of Evil” even though Iraq and Iran are historic enemies and North Korea is the historic “Hermit Kingdom” isolated on the other side of the planet. In fact, the “Axis of Evil” idea was fabricated by a speech writer and has no reality beyond the rhetoric.

2) The US repeatedly says that “all options are on the table” referring to its right to arrange regime change in other nations, its right to bomb other nations, to blockade them, to invade them, and to use nuclear weapons if wants to. In fact, those are all acts of aggression, illegal under international law.

3) The US has also declared a doctrine of pre-emptive war. This means that national defense is no longer based on responding to the military actions of other nations but is now based on responding to America’s imagination of the military intentions of other nations.

Intentions are invisible, and it often happens that denying intentions is perceived as proof of their existence. The more Iran claims that it has no intentions of acquiring nuclear weapons, the more this is seen as evidence that it does. Saddam made that mistake. Or, rather, the USA and UK made that mistake about Saddam: they misimagined his intentions. Also, Iran’s denials sound like lies because every nation knows that geopolitical rationality dictates that Iran should seek nuclear weapons to deter US threats. Any people who are the target of America’s militarized imagination had better prepare for real war. Thus, North Korea and Iran are not the causes of current instability; they are reacting rationally to the instability caused by the USA.

The simplest solution to the present crisis would be for the US to stop threatening other nations, to return to rule of international law, and to give the guarantees of non-aggression that North Korea and Iran have been requesting. America’s allies in East Asia, in the Middle East, in Europe, and in North America need to somehow find the courage to tell Americans and their current administration that they should try to become a normal nation, one that does not arrogate to itself special rights, one that is not fearful of other people using their own resources for their own purposes, one that is cooperative, responsible, self-restraining, and respectful of other peoples and their leaders. The sooner America realizes that it is merely one nation among many, comprising merely 5% of humankind, the sooner will the world be more peaceful and able to face the real threats to our existence.

FLOYD RUDMIN is Professor of Social & Community Psychology at the University of Tromsø. He can be reached at